Selecting the right people can be performed by looking at the different stages in the innovation process and selecting roles which can support these. As explained in the core innovation process, the following stages can be distinguished:

  • Ideation
  • Conceptualization
  • Ideas to product
  • Elaboration
  • Exploitation

Between each stage, a filter guarantees that only valuable ideas are kept in the process. In the ideation stage, a stimulator may help igniting innovative thinking. A stimulator may be an outsider or an insider oriented externally through his/her formal or informal relationships with members or other people. Stimulators are cosmopolite people who should understand both the environment and the general problems of the organization. To make sure the idea passes the ideas filter, an initiator, who translates the idea into a plan of action which is appropriate for the organization is required. An initiator is an insider who knows the organization well enough to package the idea in a form acceptable to other organization members, so as to make sure the idea is not abandoned in an early stage. In parallel, but extending longer until the launch gate filter, a legitimizer must be involved. The legitimizer has the power to sanction ideas, and may take this role for different ideas dependent upon (a) his/her breadth of experience or personal interest, (b) the size and structure of the organization, and (c) the nature of the innovation(s). In the ‘ideas to product’ stage, someone with formal authority needs to commit organization resources so as to pursue the idea and include it in the project planning: a decision-maker. During the elaboration, and to a lesser extent in the exploitation stage, an executor implants the adoption decision. (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971).
Over the years, other, more specific roles have been identified which have proven to be key in improving the success of an installed innovation process. These roles often receive different naming dependent on the source, however the following list provides an exhaustive view on the roles in innovation. It is important to stress that these roles can be combined into one person, especially in smaller organizations. These roles are (Hender, 2003):

  • Thinker
  • Innovator
  • Entrepreneur
  • Intrapreneur
  • Champion
  • Operator
  • Team
  • Expert
  • Sponsor
  • Gatekeeper
  • Climate maker
  • Externals

Thinkers produce new ideas (Adair, 1996) (Smith & Ainsworth, 1989). Roberts and Fusfeld defined thinkers as experts in one or two fields, who enjoy doing innovative work and are good problem solvers. Examples are engineers with broad interests who can bridge the gap between technical disciplines. (Roberts & Fusfeld, 1988). Other attributes of the thinker include:

  • Personality: self-confidence, curiosity, persistence, determination, and openness
  • Cognitive abilities: intelligence, fluency, problem finding orientation, associational abilities, divergent thinking, and analogic thinking
  • Knowledge: broad interests, diverse expertise
  • Motivation: energy, risk taking approach, self-starting ability, independence, intrinsic motivation
  • Attitudes: self-efficacy, commitment to creative endeavour
  • Skills and behaviours: communication skills, social competence

(based on summary work done by (Hender, 2003), in turn based on (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993) (Oldham & Cummings, 1996) (Ford, 1999) (Amabile, 1988) (Isaksen, 1988) (MacKinnon, 1971) (Couger, 1995) (Hargadon & Sutton, 2000) (Farr & Ford, 1990).

An innovator translates ideas into reality. These people are sometimes also labelled shapers, described as the people who make the idea or project “real”, using their creativity to flesh out the premise and/or to find the practical means to meet its objective (Syrett & Lammiman, Creativity). Sometimes a distinction is made between the technical innovator, mainly responsible for technological development, and the business innovator, mainly responsible for the overall progress of the innovation process (Tidd, Bessant, & Pavitt, 2001).

An idea that has passed through the ideation and conceptualization theme, must be translated into a money-making proposition (Smith & Ainsworth, 1989). This is the task of the entrepreneur.

Intrapreneurs closely resemble entrepreneurs, but they differ in focus. An intrapreneur will turn an idea into a reality inside the organization, whereas an entrepreneur’s focus will always be external, looking to launch the innovation on the external market. Intrapreneurs are sometimes described as ‘the dreamers who do’ (Pinchot, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur, 1985).

A champion picks up an idea, not necessarily his/her own, and fosters it to work it through the organisation to a successful outcome (Smith & Ainsworth, 1989). A difference is sometimes made between a product champion for the elaboration stage, and an executive champion for the exploitation stage (Maidique, 1988).
Qualities of a champion are (Chakrabarti, 1974):

  • Technical competence: the champion should be able to understand the product’s limitations and advantages
  • Knowledge about the company: a champion overarches several roles and innovation stages, which is why he/she needs an in-depth understanding of the company
  • Knowledge of the market: ultimately, an innovation success is determined in the market. The champion must have realistic expectations and ideas about the product’s market potential, so as to be able to work out a suitable marketing strategy
  • Drive and aggressiveness: drive and aggressiveness is necessary to push the idea, get work done and decisions made. It is not rare that the champion will have to confront adversaries.
  • Political astuteness: as the champion will have to get along and communicate with different types of people, it is a critical advantage to know the proper power centers within the organization to get his/her actions legitimized.

As the innovation passes through the innovation stages, it becomes more a business than an innovation. Especially after an idea has passed through the conceptualization subtheme, operators are required to adequately manage the daily operations surrounding the innovation. The characteristics of an operator are more those of traditional managers (Pinchot, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur, 1985):

  • Careful attitude towards risks
  • Often business school trained
  • Want promotion
  • Are power motivated
  • Use abstract analytical tools
  • Have people management and political skills

Moreover, they need to be results-oriented, to lucratively exploit the idea.

Whereas some companies place much trust in individuals to provide innovations and nurture them through the innovation process, a team can often be much more efficient. Ideally, the team consists of volunteers attracted by the idea, or recruited by a team leader. The team leader must show strong leadership to make sure the team stays focused on its goals. A team administrator takes on a supportive role to ensure an open atmosphere, by taking care of organizational maintenance and the social needs (e.g. teambuilding) of the group. (Pinchot & Pellman, Intrapreneuring in Action: A Handbook for Business Innovation, 1999), (Boyatzis, Esteves, & Spencer, 1992)

An expert is a functional specialist in marketing, production, finance, etc. that help entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs implement business plans. (Boyatzis, Esteves, & Spencer, 1992).

Any idea that is not supported by executive management will never make it to the elaboration or exploitation stage. Sponsors are members of executive management who authorize resources and guide an idea through the formal procedures of the company. The support of a high-powered person also ensures buy-in of other employees in the company, thus creating a leverage. (Pinchot & Pellman, Intrapreneuring in Action: A Handbook for Business Innovation, 1999)

Gatekeepers are about passing information through the company. Sometimes these are also called brokers. It is often said that the greatest threat to innovation is an information silo. Free and open information exchange and conversation is the fuel that drives innovation in organizations. “A broker breaks down silos and builds links between information groups, supporting cross-functional conversation and exchange” (Doss, 2013). Gatekeepers must possess the following characteristics (Roberts & Fusfeld, 1988):

  • High level of technical competence
  • Approachable/personable
  • Enjoy face-to-face contact

Climate maker
As will be further described in the requirements of the human resources department, a climate in which innovation is encouraged is crucial to install a successful innovation process. Similar to the sponsor role, the climate maker is a senior person, supporting innovation. However, in contrast with the sponsor, the climate maker will not support one particular idea, but will more generally advocate innovation. As such, the climate maker (implicitly) directs HR to deploy an innovative climate and organizational culture. A climate maker must possess a strong belief in innovation and a sincere determination to keep innovation alive. (Pinchot & Pellman, Intrapreneuring in Action: A Handbook for Business Innovation, 1999).

Externals are often of high value with regards to the innovation process. They draw on specialist knowledge or skills, which may prove useful to determine whether or not an idea is realistic. Furthermore, they might be consulted for review of ideas or further elaboration of the ideas. (Syrett & Lammiman, Creativity).
As can be seen from the above list, many roles are involved in the innovation practice. However, most of these roles are not explicitly defined in job descriptions. They are merely human characteristics which are implicitly present in some (potential) employees. It is however, of the utmost importance to locate the people with these characteristics and to nurture and motivate people possessing these properties to keep them alive and growing. It happens all too often (in large organizations, but also in smaller ones), that innovative behaviour fades away over time, as it is not incentivized, formally evaluated or even recognized by management. Few reward systems for example will explicitly remunerate risk-taking behaviour, which is often a sign of innovation. Human resources should adjust in such a way to seamlessly fit in the innovation process that is installed in the organization. The next section will provide guidelines to achieve this.


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